You read right, the little understood phenomenon of “solar tsunamis” have been rippling across the sun’s atmosphere in recent days.
Also known as EIT waves, they’re thought to be a sort of shock wave that accompanies a coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun.
A CME is different from a solar flare, which is a blast of energy that erupts from the sun and travels out into the solar system at the speed of light, often disrupting certain radio communications when it collides with Earth’s magnetic field.
A CME, on the other hand, is made up of charged particles that travel much slower, taking a few days to reach our magnetosphere where they can produce brilliant auroras.
In the animation above you can see the faint wave traveling outward from the erupting area, which is sunspot AR2975, in the center-left of the sun.
While there’s no need to worry about the waves reaching Earth, the associated M-class flares seen on Friday and Monday did produce some shortwave radio blackouts. Pilots, mariners and ham radio operators, particularly in the region of the South Atlantic, may have noticed some weird radio behavior.
“This tsunami was ‘radio-active,’” explains astronomer Dr. Tony Phillips at Spaceweather.com “Its rippling leading edge beamed radio waves toward Earth.”
Interestingly, while the first radio blackout is centered on the equator, Phillips adds that our magnetosphere actually funnels the energetic protons from the sun towards our planet’s poles, causing a secondary radio blackout around the polar regions that pilots may notice.
All this solar activity has also produced CMEs with the potential to produce some interesting aurora borealis and aurora australis displays. A CME from the Friday blast is set to arrive today (March 28), while it’s not yet certain when the CME that likely accompanied Monday’s eruption might arrive at Earth.
Keep your eyes up!